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by dr andrew cousins

Mike Fungus

Mike Fungus has been described as "Britain’s jazz film maker" by film critic and all-round spooky Irishman, Mark Cousins. He began his film career with ‘Wet and Windy Wednesday’, a gangster picture set in Durham. His big break was being nominated for a Best Director Oscar for ‘Drinking Yourself to Death with a Prostitute. In Las Vegas’ He didn’t win. His next film was the deeply personal ‘I’ve Had Lots of Sex’ – an allegedly semi-autobiographical piece about the sexual experiences of a man over the course of his life. Most recently he has embraced digital film making techniques with, ‘Off-Line Edit’ a feature film shot entirely using camcorders. He’s a musician and composer, a writer and a part-time hairdresser. I met with him to talk about his work.

AC: Mike, that quote from Mark Cousins about you being a "jazz film maker". Does that sum you up accurately do you think?

MF: Well it’s true that I love jazz. I also love cinema. Jazz seems to encompass exactly the elements I love about film making. Jazz is music that comes from the heart. It engages our emotions and pulls on our heart strings. Jazz is a four-letter word, yet when you say it, it seems to be made up of so many more – "jaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzzzzzz". Film is almost exactly the same. Except it doesn’t score as much in Scrabble.

AC: Your love of music comes across very strongly in your films, in fact you compose the score for all your movies. How much does music influence the way you set about making a film?

MF: Music is vital to my movies. It surrounds them and penetrates them. It binds the narrative together. I approach every one of my films as if it were a piece of music. Films have a rhythm, a tempo. I don’t write a screenplay, I compose it. I don’t direct it, I conduct. Instead of musicians I have actors. Instead of a musical stave I have a screen. I have no instruments to play with but I suppose that you could say I play my actors instead.

AC: You certainly play with some of them. You’re going out with the lead actress from your last film aren’t you?

MF: I’d rather not comment on my relationship with Saffy.

AC: Of course not I wasn’t trying to pry.

MF: She’s extremely good looking. That’s all I’m willing to say about it.

AC: As your films are so personal are you ever disappointed that more people don’t go to see them?

MF: Big box office returns don’t interest me. If I’ve connected with just one person, if my work has engaged them, then I’m satisfied.

MF: I wanted to talk to you about, ‘I’ve Had Lots of Sex’. The film follows a man from boyhood to adulthood and recounts his various sexual encounters. The main narrative is interwoven with a stylised version of the Adam and Eve story. It was critically mauled on release and Sight and Sound called it "a fresh, steaming turd upon the concrete pavement of British cinema". Did that sort of reaction hurt you at all?

MF: Yes to a certain extent it did. I just don’t think people really got the idea behind the picture. What I was attempting to do with the film was a study into the restrictive sexual mores of Britain. It’s a snapshot series of scenes from the life of one man. It shows us how we’ve changed over the years. It also shows us how far we have to go.

AC: The main character was clearly based on yourself wasn’t he?

MF: No. The film was entirely fictional.

AC: Oh come on.

MF: Do you really think that I’m so lacking in imagination that I just made a poorly-conceived vanity piece that was entirely designed to flatter my ego? How shallow do you think I am?

AC: Well there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that.

MF: For example?

AC: Well the fact that the main character is called ‘Nick Findus’. That does sound remarkably similar to your name doesn’t it?

MF: Coincidence.

AC: He plays the trumpet.

MF: So?

AC: What instrument do you play again?

MF: The trumpet. But so what? Roy Castle played the trumpet I don’t see you berating him like this.

AC: There’s also the small fact that ‘Nick Findus’ grows up to be a film maker…

MF: The world is full of film makers.

AC: …who at various times lives in Carlisle, Newcastle, and Kenya just like you? Except you lived in Penrith rather then Carlisle.

MF: No I lived in Carlisle.

AC: Gotcha.

MF: Bugger.

AC: So having established that the main story is based on your life, can you explain what all the Adam and Eve stuff is all about?

MF: It’s merely a visual metaphor. It illustrates the loss of innocence that I, er I mean that the character undergoes as the story unfolds.

AC: So it’s not an utterly desperate attempt to be arty by employing a desperately contrived and clichéd subplot?

MF: Can we talk about my new film please?

AC: Okay, your new film ‘Off-Line Edit’ has all been shot on digital camcorders. Why did you decide to shoot it that way?

MF: I shot it on a digital camcorder format mainly because I was sick of the way that movies cost so much to make. There has to be a cheaper way to do it. Shooting digitally allows me a freedom that I could never get with film. Plus I’ve been able to employ new techniques that have never been attempted in the history of the motion picture.

AC: And what are those?

MF: Well instead of just shooting with one camera, I’ve used four. The whole film has been shot in real time and the screen is split into four images. The sound from each image is faded up or down to concentrate your attention onto each image as necessary. It’s a revolutionary technique, which as I say, has never before been attempted in the history of motion pictures.

AC: And what’s the idea of doing it like that?

MF: How do you mean?

AC: Well if you make a film using such a deliberately different story telling technique you must have had a reason for it.

MF: Didn’t I mention that it hasn’t been attempted before in the history of cinema?

AC: Yes you did but it doesn’t answer my question. Well?

MF: Yes, I’m thinking…

AC: You haven’t got an answer have you?

MF: Of course I do.

AC: Well what is it then?

MF: It’s complicated. I think we should leave it at that.

AC: You just did it to be cool didn’t you?

MF: Yes. All right I admit it. Happy now?

AC: Yes I am actually. Mike Fungus, thank you.

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